Molecular signature of organic nitrogen in septic-impacted groundwater†
Dissolved inorganic and organic nitrogen levels are elevated in aquatic systems due to anthropogenic activities. Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) arises from various sources, and its impact could be more clearly constrained if specific sources were identified and if the molecular-level composition of DON were better understood. In this work, the pharmaceutical carbamazepine was used to identify septic-impacted groundwater in a coastal watershed. Using ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry data, the nitrogen-containing features of the dissolved organic matter in septic-impacted and non-impacted samples were compared. The septic-impacted groundwater samples have a larger abundance of nitrogen-containing formulas. Impacted samples have additional DON features in the regions ascribed as ‘protein-like’ and ‘lipid-like’ in van Krevelen space and have more intense nitrogen-containing features in a specific region of a carbon versus mass plot. These features are potential indicators of dissolved organic nitrogen arising from septic effluents, and this work suggests that ultrahigh resolution mass spectrometry is a valuable tool to identify and characterize sources of DON.